Friday, 15 June 2012

Why Andrew Stanton Is Wrong Part II: The Ballad Of Bruce Davison

In Part I, in response to director Andrew Stanton's claim that he wasn't concerned with the budget for John Carter, I wrote about James Cameron’s Titanic budget, which increased from $150 million to $200 million. Despite this, clearly Cameron knew at every stage exactly what he was spending money on, and why. The result: authenticity, attention to detail and an emotional impact that famously made men cry. While it seems to divide opinions, it's undeniably one of the most successful films of all time, and one which remains much loved today. So $200 million well spent, and Titanic In 3D might just be the iceberg on the cake.

Of course, not all filmmakers get the chance to play with the best toys. Let’s say you are Shane Van Dyke, director of Titanic II. Your budget is $500,000 - that's just a quarter of a percent of the Titanic budget.

What makes the most difference to a small budget film? Casting: maybe you can’t afford an all-star cast, but having an experienced actor such as Bruce Davison means your epic script can be delivered with a little gravitas: their involvement might also help other cast members to up their game. Set construction is still a good investment – focus on the key locations: the bridge, the dining room, where the most important scenes are going to take place, and spend the money to get them right. Then film everything else in coridoors, stairwells and cupboards.

Was that money well spent? Read my review here, or judge for yourselves.

When money is tight you need to work efficiently. Global Asylum might not be at the forefront of the digital cinema revolution, but they are truly pioneers of the fourteen-day shoot. It’s also a good idea to be nice to your cast and crew: there’s going to be a need for a lot of goodwill, and hopefully a sense of fun on set – both of which can lead to a better film. 

Whether a high or low budget movie, the basic principle is the same: spend the money unevenly, focussing the resources where they will make the most difference. While the producers and the investors hold the purse strings, these decisions require artistic knowledge, and are best served by a director working for, not against, the budget. I think it would be no bad thing if Mr. Stanton was made to shoot an Asylum film: he would certainly learn a thing or two about money and why it needs to be respected.

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